FREEHOLD – Municipal officials in Freehold Borough have advanced the possibility of allowing a medical marijuana treatment center to operate in town following a business operator’s proposal to establish such a facility on Throckmorton Street.
During a special meeting on Aug. 19, members of the Borough Council passed a resolution supporting the expansion of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Marijuana Act, which provides legal protection for the cultivation, processing, dispensing and use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Council members said the resolution was necessary for a marijuana treatment center to be permitted to operate in Freehold Borough. The resolution does not officially approve any medical marijuana treatment center in town.
The document establishes the fact that the council members plan to adopt an ordinance which would permit a treatment center to operate in certain zones. A medical marijuana facility will not officially be permitted in those zones until such an ordinance is adopted.
The council’s action occurred after representatives of Garden State Botanicals unveiled their plan to establish a medical marijuana dispensary at 195 Throckmorton Street, near the intersection with Rhea Street.
During a presentation, pharmacist Pat Nasshorn and Mike Gorman, who handles real estate for the company, spoke about their personal experiences with medical marijuana.
Nasshorn said her husband died four months after being diagnosed with a brain tumor that became treatment combative, with chemotherapy stimulating its growth. Following her husband’s death, Nasshorn began to research medical marijuana.
“I absolutely believe medical marijuana is something that helps people out of many conditions,” she said. “I have seen the benefits of it. My husband was extremely agitated during his last two months and I believe medical marijuana would have calmed him down and given him a more peaceful exit.
“This (medical marijuana) is a medical alternative,” Nasshorn continued. “It’s everyone’s choice to have whatever options they want and this is another option.”
Gorman told municipal officials and members of the public his father died after a nine-year battle with esophageal cancer, for which he was prescribed Oxycontin, an opioid.
Six months before he died, his father, whom Gorman said was in constant pain and had difficultly eating, agreed to try medical marijuana.
“He said, ‘I feel no pain for the first time in a long time,’ ” Gorman said. “Then he ate three slices of pizza and strawberry shortcake. Watching the relief (medical marijuana) brought him and the side effect of curing his (loss of) appetite made me a supporter.”
Pharmacist Lou Giannotti told council members that individuals who have chronic pain find themselves using opioids and increase their use when their bodies develop tolerance to the drug, and become addicted.
Medical marijuana, he said, also relieves pain, but without leading to tolerance and addiction. Furthermore, Giannotti said medical marijuana cures an addiction to opioids.
“I would see opioid usage drop by half,” he said. “Every patient who came in decreased their opioid addiction and eventually came off it. It was consistent.”
Giannotti described a medical marijuana dispensary as being highly monitored. Patients would have to be certified by a doctor and provide identification, including a medical marijuana card provided by the state, before entering the facility.
If granted entrance, patients would be asked what is being treated and if they have any experience with the product. Patients would then be provided with an appropriate strain of the drug and receive instructions on how to use it, including an advisory to not drive while under the influence of the drug.
When questioned by council members, Police Chief Craig Dispenza said he contacted officials in three towns that have a medical marijuana dispensary. He said no one has encountered any additional strain on their community’s emergency resources.
“People pick up items and leave,” Dispenza said. “There’s no loitering.”
Gorman said Freehold Borough was selected as a location for a dispensary because of its central location. He said there are about one million people within 30 minutes of the borough.
He told officials a dispensary provides a financial bonus for a host town, with income generated for the municipality through taxes on the sale of the medical marijuana.
The potential traffic that could be generated by a dispensary was a cause of concern for residents who spoke at the meeting.
“The central location will attract millions of people and traffic,” resident Marie Chapman said. “And we are overcrowded as it is.”
In response, Gorman said the proposed location on Throckmorton Street, outside the downtown district and near Route 9, would prevent increased traffic downtown.
Giannotti estimated that the amount of business generated by a medical marijuana facility is about 30 percent of the business typically generated by a chain drug store.
Resident Steven Felle agreed that such a facility would not cause significant traffic issues and urged borough officials to support the medical marijuana dispensary.
“I think we should be a leader,” Felle said.
After listening to the Garden State Botanicals representatives and residents, council President Kevin Kane and council members Sharon Shutzer, Michael DiBenedetto, George Schnurr, Annette Jordan and Margaret Rogers unanimously approved the resolution to support the expansion of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.
“By far, medical marijuana has not created a bad environment and instead benefited its communities,” Rogers said.
“We are here to move our borough forward,” Jordan said.
Shutzer and DiBenedetto acknowledged they would have voted against a recreational (adult use) marijuana proposal, but would support a medical marijuana business.
Shutzer said she initially intended not to support the resolution, but became conflicted as she researched medical marijuana and encountered an individual who told her that her brother-in-law could not exist without marijuana treatment.
“I’m diabetic, but I’m not going to vote against opening bakeries and candy stores,” the councilwoman said. “There is a certain level of personal responsibility we can’t legislate. And we are not going to get rid of restaurants and concerts because of the traffic they generate. It can’t stop us from going forward with something that may not be a bad thing.”
Shutzer said the council members would hold Garden State Botanicals responsible to make good on their promises if the medical marijuana dispensary ever opens in Freehold Borough.
Kane said the proposed facility’s ability to reach a million people within 30 minutes of its location is an advantage, stating, “to have that kind of reach is a tremendous benefit to the community.”